Gophers diver Keefer ready to take the Big Ten plunge

  • Article by: AARON PAITICH SPECIAL TO THE STAR TRIBUNE
  • Updated: February 19, 2013 - 9:12 PM

Gophers diving star Maggie Keefer is primed to have another strong showing in the league championships.

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Gophers diver Maggie Keefer, a four-time Big Ten diver, at practice at the University of Minnesota this week.

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, Dml -

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Having a fear of heights is not all that uncommon -- unless you're a big-time Big Ten diver, like Gophers junior Maggie Keefer.

Keefer, a Stillwater graduate, never was a fan of heights, but she watched her sister dive in meets for years. Like most younger siblings, she wanted to follow in her elder's footsteps.

"I was like, 'I want to be just like her,'" Keefer said.

The 1-meter dive is no problem. The first time she tried the 3-meter springboard, "it was so scary," Keefer said. "And then I started doing platform, which is even scarier."

It took her three years just to muster up enough courage to jump off the platform, 10 meters above the water. She finally did it at age 14, and while the anxiety has calmed considerably since then, it's still in the back of her mind when she takes the stage.

"Especially when I have to stand backwards on the platform," Keefer said. "That gets me every time."

Judging by her success, no one would ever guess that. Keefer has been named Big Ten Diver of the Week five times this season while winning 14 diving events for the Gophers. She earned Big Ten Co-Diver of the Championships at last year's conference meet with second-place finishes in the 1- and 3-meter events while placing fourth off the platform. She qualified for the NCAA Championships as both a freshman and sophomore.

Keefer will look to continue rolling this week when the defending champion Gophers are hosts of the Big Ten Championships at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center Wednesday through Saturday.

Iconic diving coach Wenbo Chen sees good things ahead.

"It looks like she's ready," said Chen, who coaches Minnesota divers and was a U.S. assistant coach at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. "She always performs well at meets. She's a meet diver."

And Chen's tutelage has been a huge boost. "He's awesome," Keefer said. "He just knows what to do and when to do it."

But Keefer has had problems with cysts in her wrist the past couple of years. She had surgery last May to have them removed. This fall, they returned. She hasn't made a full recovery, though it hasn't seemed to affect her performance.

"It's painful, but I try not to really think about it that much," Keefer said.

The rest of the Gophers squad, ranked No. 12 in the nation, also is shaping up nicely in hopes of a title defense. Junior Tess Behrens is looking to repeat her titles in both the 100- and 200-yard backstroke. Senior Haley Spencer is a seven-time All-America and two-time Big Ten defending champion in the 200-yard breaststroke, an event in which she captured the NCAA title two years ago. Five sophomores have combined for 59 victories this year. Freshman Kierra Smith has registered 21 first-place finishes.

But they'll have plenty of challengers, including 13th-ranked Indiana. Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State are all in the top 25 as well. The Gophers are hoping for a home pool advantage to stay on top.

"We're all very excited, especially because it's at our home pool and we're the defending champs," Keefer said. "I think everyone's ready just to go in, have a good time, be successful and hopefully jump into the pool at the end of the meet again."

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